'You don't have to do it alone': New Parkland initiative looks to help anyone in need
SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. — People say it takes a village to raise children.
Now, a school social worker is trying to create a village for everyone within Parkland School District.
Parkland Home & School Visitor Diane Irish has begun holding office hours for the Parkland REACH Village, a gathering space and community hub of information for anyone who lives in the district.
From 9 to 11 a.m. every Tuesday and noon-2 p.m. every Wednesday, people can come into Room 114 of the Troxell Building and speak with Irish, who can help people navigate the many community resources available in the area.
Irish also will hold monthly events in the space.
“People are sometimes reluctant to say, ‘Hey, I could use some help,’" Irish said. "Everyone's out there trying to do it on their own.
“And the whole idea of the village is you don't have to do it alone. There are lots of resources for you. It really does take a village, there are people here to help you and guide you and support you.”
The Village is part of Parkland REACH, or Resources Enhancing All Children’s Health, a committee of Parkland School District staff who coordinate the distribution of food, clothing, school supplies, snack packs, holiday meals and personal hygiene items.
The Troxell Building is at 2219 N. Cedar Crest Blvd., near the high school. The entrance to the Parkland REACH Village is in the back of the building.
What is the Village like?
Lining the back wall of the former classroom are dozens of pamphlets and brochures with information about how to find food and housing assistance, mental health providers, parenting resources and more.
There also is a closet with extra clothes, a fridge with some food and a stack of school supplies. Irish said there are not currently many material resources on hand in the Village.
“Quite honestly, things like food, clothes, school supplies—those are the easy problems to fix," Irish said. "I can get that for you lickety split.
“It's the bigger problems that are more systemic or have perhaps gone too long, and now it's more difficult to fix.”
One corner of the room has couches under a Parkland School District banner.
Irish said during office hours and appointments, she will sit down with students, families, staff members and anyone living in the district to talk through whatever issues they need help with.
Irish said she sees this as an expansion of the annual Community Resource Fair, which this year will be held March 16 in the high school.
“You could learn something in March, and don't really need that information until November,” Irish said. “And then you're trying to remember, ‘Who was sitting at the table? What was that agency called?
“This is available now year-round, where people can touch base and say, ‘I know there's this agency out there that helps with this, but I can't remember what it was.’
"We'll help you figure it out.”
“Really what I think people need, even more so than any amount of money or any amount of stuff, is that they need other people."Parkland School District Social Worker Diane Irish
Irish held a couple of events in the Parkland REACH Village in fall. She plans to hold more events there as a way to help people feel comfortable in the space and build community.
Irish encouraged everyone in the community to attend the events—even people who don’t currently need assistance.
“Really what I think people need, even more so than any amount of money or any amount of stuff, is that they need other people,” Irish said.
The need for resources
District Student Services Director Matthew Carlson said that while Parkland is an affluent school district, its students deal with the same hardships as students in surrounding districts.
Those include mental health issues, learning differences, homelessness and food insecurity.
“We have a diverse population of students and families with a variety of different challenges just like we all face,” Carlson said.
Irish said 20-25% of families qualify for free and reduced lunch and breakfast.
“Out here in the suburbs, there's not as many resources for them,” Irish said. “In the city of Allentown, there are food banks and there are social service agencies. And there are offices you can go to for help.
“But here in the three municipalities that we inhabit, there's not a lot like that. But the need is still there. And it’s growing.”
"There are a lot of different initiatives in the district. And now we have the addition of the REACH Village as another piece of that."Parkland Director of Student Services Matthew Carlson
Carlson said the district has many ways to support students, including at least one school counselor in every school and school psychologists.
“The wonderful thing is, there are a lot of different initiatives in the district," Carlson said. "And now we have the addition of the REACH Village as another piece of that.”
Irish said the main limitation of the Parkland REACH Village is that sometimes, there aren't enough resources for the problems people have.
"Housing is a prime example of that," Irish said. "There's assistance for housing, but it's gobbled up so quickly that a lot of times when people are looking for assistance for with rent, or to avoid eviction, the funding just isn't there."
Moving to the Operations Center
The Parkland REACH Village won’t stay in the Troxell building for long.
It soon will move into the under-construction Parkland Operations Center, across from Orefield Middle School.
The initial building is expected to be completed in October, but the district also is starting to plan for an addition to the building. That addition would hold the school social workers.
Irish said she thinks the new space may let her keep more food and clothes on hand. She also thinks there may be ways for community members to volunteer and help the program in the future.
“It's still brand new, so we're still kind of feeling our way along for this first year,” Irish said.